Was born at the Consolidated Main Reef, Maraisburg in the Transvaal. He was educated at a Parktown Preparatory School, Johannesburg (1909-1918) and at the South African College, Cape Town (1918-1923) after which he studied building construction, carpentry, joinery and French at the Cape Town Technical College before commencing the Diploma course in Architecture at the University of Cape Town (1925-1927), classes for which were then held at the Michaelis School of Art. He also studied art at the Cape Town Art School in Plein St under CS Groves prior to 1924 when he was articled to Leonard McCONNELL until 1927. On McConnell's advice, he went overseas to continue his architectural studies.
Tanton recalls that among his contemporaries studying architecture at Cape Town at the Michaelis School of Fine Art were ED ANDREWS, TJ DRY, J JOHNSTON, I LEEB and LA ANDERSON. He left South Africa in 1928 to study at the Architectural Association in London, passing his third, fourth and fifth years of study. In 1931 he was elected an Associate member of the RIBA and was a finalist for the Owen Jones Prize, with a study of colour composition, and the Tite Prize with a study of Renaissance architecture in Italy and the Herbert Baker Scholarship (1934), also winning the Silver Medal in the Alfred Bossom Scholarship in 1931. South Africans studying with him at the Architectural Association were Herbert McWILLIAMS, Herbert G PORTER, George STEGMANN, Aubrey NUNN, James GARDNER, William HIRST and JJO ORPEN.
Tanton remained in Britain for a few years before returning to South Africa. During the depression in 1931 Tanton was employed by the British and Dominion Film Company as a set designer at Elstree near London. He also worked for several London architects; for W Curtis Green & Partners who were designing the Dorchester Hotel; for Oliver Hill, whom he assisted on domestic designs; for Welch, Cashmaill, Day & Lander, whom he assisted on ecclesiastical work; for Maxwell Ayrton, then occupied with bridges on the River Thames and a medical research building in Hampstead. He also worked for a short time for PD Hepworth.
In 1933 Tanton returned to South Africa and was employed by Allen WILSON, working on a reinforced concrete grandstand with a cantilevered roof for the Eastern District Sports Club at Dunswart, Benoni; he also entered a design for the competition for the Benoni Town Hall in 1934 and received an honourable mention. His plan was commended by Rex MARTIENSSEN who noted the plan 'showed thought and sense of architectural values ... (the) major elements are clearly articulated and the building with its setting would provide an admirable background for civic functions ... such a design makes a true step forward in the history of South African architectural competition ... it is distressing that such a work should be doomed to remain on paper' (SAAR Nov 1934:296). In 1934 he was invited to join the firm of JONES & McWILLIAMS in Port Elizabeth, Herbert McWILLIAMS having been at the Architectural Association with him. While with the firm he designed the Elizabeth Donkin Hospital for Infectious Diseases; Lawson Brown School, now Viljoen High School, Pearson High School and Lennon's factory in Port Elizabeth. From 1935 until 1947 Tanton lectured at the Port Elizabeth Technical College in all aspects of architectural training.
He left Jones & McWilliams in 1938 and joined HL ROBERTS in partnership (cf ROBERTS & TANTON), opening a branch office in Port Elizabeth. The office closed down after only a short time owing to the outbreak of the Second World War, reopening as Roberts & Tanton in 1946. Here Tanton continued to practice and was joined by his son John Tanton in 1960; his son was then offered a partnership by Jones & McWilliams and HJ Tanton continued to practice on his own account in Port Elizabeth until 1983 but retired in 1985 owing to ill health. He executed a large number of schools in and around Port Elizabeth among other works. Tanton's drawings are kept at the School of Architecture, the University of Port Elizabeth. Among the drawings are those for various competitions for which he entered.
Life member of the Eastern Province Society of Arts and Crafts, Port Elizabeth; Life member of the Institute of South African Architects; Bar to Silver Protea for long and distinguished service to the Boy Scout movement in South Africa.
ARIBA 1930; ISAA 1934; TPIA 1934; EPIA 1935. (ARIBA nom papers (1930) 4592; Grahamstown Publ Assn. n.d.; Tanton 1987, 1988; SAAR Jul 1934; SAAR Nov 1934:296; SAAR May 1936:170; Volksblad 12 Nov 1988:2)
The photographs of TANTON were sent to us by his grand-daughter, Andrea Matthewson.
All truncated references not fully cited in 'References' are those of Joanna Walker's original text and cited in full in the 'Bibliography' entry of the Lexicon.
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